Bosnia at the NATO Summit

January 08, 1994

Bosnia, Europe's recurring nightmare, is pushing its way into the NATO summit and providing more irritants in the troubled U.S.-France relationship. In the run-up to the alliance meeting, the Paris government has been putting pressure on a reluctant President Clinton to intervene militarily in the 21-month conflict. This comes at a sensitive time as Serbian forces renew heavy shelling of Sarajevo, a step Washington warned last year could lead to U.S. aerial counter-strikes.

The United States should resist such pressure for higher reasons than because it comes from a nation, France, that has opted out of the NATO military command for more than a quarter-century. There is solid evidence the Muslims as well as the Serbs and the Croats have resisted a peace agreement in order to fulfill the demands of extremists in their ranks. Each side seeks territorial advantage; each side for its own purposes seeks to manipulate the world community; each side needs to admit such tactics are literally at a dead end.

To be sure, the Muslims have suffered most in this horrible war. Our hearts go out to its victims as they endure or succumb to incessant battle and the rigors of winter. But it does not serve the cause of effective peace-keeping in the future -- and there will be plenty of need for it -- if intervention offers little prospect of an early and sustainable success. The lesson of Somalia is on American minds.

At the very time France wants stronger U.S. action, there is increasing talk in Europe of pulling out the current contingents of British, French and Spanish peacekeepers this spring if the fighting is still going on. Such threats can serve a purpose if they finally force the kind of agreement U.N. mediators have been pushing. A key meeting is set for Geneva in mid-January.

Even if the warring parties sign on, peace-keeping will be a risky business. The Clinton administration may yet have to face up to its earlier and perhaps ill-considered pledges to provide up to 25,000 troops.

The Bosnia conflict should force NATO to restructure itself so it does not make so much of a mess of similar situations in the future. From the summit will come plans to create "combined joint task forces" for possible assignment outside of alliance territory. The pretense of having all alliance members join in would be scrapped in favor of a looser but more realistic plan where such decisions are left to individual nations.

There is no guarantee this approach will work. But it may goad the Europeans to take a larger military role in NATO instead of depending so much on the leadership of a U.S. superpower with global responsibilities in a chaotic world.

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